Celebrating fitness and community with Turf Games

Over two days in January, Printworks was transformed for the Turf Games Winter Festival 2022. We look at the people and the philosophy that brought over 2,000 athletes to London to take part in the games.

For lots of people, a fitness competition is not an event they would consider attending, let alone participating in. The idea of solo deadlifts on a stage, of comparing muscle definition and posing for a panel of judges is intimidating. It is also a poor reflection, according to the founder of Turf Games, Andrew Mantiet, of why we choose to push ourselves physically. He came to fitness, he explained, to look after his mental and well as his physical health, and that meant creating a supportive and social environment.

Having moved to London from Brisbane, Maniet started the games as a friendly competition between gyms in the city in 2018. Turf Games grew at speed, and at this year’s festival welcomed more than 2,000 athletes to Printworks, a following built on the foundations of social fitness and positivity.

“I wanted to build a fitness comp that everybody could do – no super high skilled movements – just teamwork and hard work!”

Turf Games is a team-based competition based on the principles of functional fitness. This means training that mimics and helps with everyday movements, like carrying shopping bags, hiking and playing with kids on the floor. It’s a kind of fitness suited to groups by nature, because it tends to avoid expensive and complex weight machines. Think squats, pull-ups and throwing around sandbags. As well as the Intermediate category for those who’ve competed before, and the Elite section for the very fittest, there’s an Everyday category that welcomes athletes who may be newer to the fitness world. All levels compete with the same support, and in the same venue. Everyone is included equally and valued for their efforts.

Such a large-scale fitness event has very specific venue requirements. It requires complete flexibility for the large-scale competition build, spaces for athletes to warm up and rest, sponsors require venues for activations and the whole experience needs to be elevated for spectators and supporters. For an iconic London venue, Printworks is near-unique in being able to match this brief. It also provided another important element for Turf Games: the atmosphere. Part of the event’s appeal is that it lifts up athletes and supporters with a festival-like experience, with food, drinks and DJs.

“Turf Games history is embedded in the fitness community and its development has been aligned with the needs and demands of the growing fitness industry, and the number of people seeking out ways to test themselves.”

The organisers were looking for an industrial backdrop in a cool, accessible and urban environment. We found the perfect fit at Printworks, building the main competition space in HSBC, the 2,600 square-metre former packing depot. Its original industrial metal ceiling was lit with coloured lights, underneath which the games played out in front of the crowds. In the nearby spaces of Vanway and Publishing we set up a warmup area, athlete’s village and an impressive sponsorship space.

At its core, Turf Games is about bringing people together, whether to bring motivation and training goals, to support mental health and build community or to push athletes that bit harder in front of a supportive crowd. ‘It’s an experience – a social day out’, says Mantiet, a way of celebrating the strength we have when we come together.